Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) shares regular updates about the work of our global programs. Our US program, helmed by US Program Director, Daniel R. Mahanty, with support from Research & Advocacy Associate, Julie Snyder, works with US institutions to protect civilians trapped in conflict around the world. This weekly overview of the US Program is authored by CIVIC consultant, Lyndsey Martin.
US MILITARY OPERATIONS: IRAQ, SYRIA, AFGHANISTAN, YEMEN
The US-led Coalition has quietly conceded to killing at least 40 civilians in a March 2017 airstrike on the Syrian town of al-Mansoura after more than a year of denials of civilian harm by Coalition officials. From the start, the Coalition pushed back against claims that civilians had been harmed, despite a subsequent investigation by Human Rights Watch that documented at least 40 civilian deaths and a UN Commission of Inquiry that said at least 150 civilians were killed.
HRW’s Nadim Houry told Airwars, “It’s positive that they are acknowledging this now, but it’s an incomplete step. We are not getting more clarity about how they are doing these investigations.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Azmat Khan, whose NYT investigation documented the US military’s severe undercounting of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, against the Department of Defense and US Central Command after the agencies failed to comply with FOIA requests related to civilian casualty reports from Coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Coalition forces carried out 35 strikes in Iraq and Syria between June 18 and 24.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (June 28): In the month of May, CJTF-OIR carried over 321 open reports from previous months and received 269 new reports between April 20 – May 31. The assessment of 276 civilian casualty reports have been completed. Five reports were determined to be credible, resulting in 62 unintentional civilian deaths, while 266 were assessed to be non-credible and five to be duplicate. A total of 314 reports are still open. The Coalition conducted a total of 29,596 strikes between August 2014 and end of May 2018. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 939 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, assistant deputy commanding general for Air, US Forces-Afghanistan, said in a press briefing last week that US forces have destroyed 154 Taliban targets under the expanded authorities of the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy and insisted that there were no credible allegations of civilian casualties resulting from those strikes.
While Gen. Bunch said the recent ceasefire in Afghanistan was an indication that the increased military pressure under the South Asia strategy was working, Michael Kugelman writes in Foreign Policy that while the ceasefire provided momentum, a peace deal isn’t likely for the foreseeable future.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Take #Yemen: Supreme Court has essentially said it is okay for US to block entry to citizens of country US is helping #Saudi bomb, home to world's worst humanitarian crisis, a place long familiar w impact of US drones.
In this instance, "Lawful" is (very) very far from Right. https://t.co/U9DQunMp5q
— Kristine Beckerle (@K_Beckerle) June 26, 2018
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 751 – 1,555
Children Killed: 252 – 345
Total Killed: 7,584 – 10,918
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,809
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,321
Coalition Strikes: 29,651
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 107, 383
What to Watch for: House Defense Budget Bill
The House voted on Wednesday, June 27th, to pass the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2019 and set a defense spending limit of $675 billion in 2019. (The text of the bill can be found here.)
The legislation notably included $623 million in funding for the recapitalization of the JSTAR surveillance plane program. The White House and Senate prefer a policy that scraps JSTAR and instead funds research and development in the upcoming Advanced Battle Management system that would, among other things, equip MQ-9 Reaper drones with new radar equipment and improve their ability to perform their own surveillance during strikes.
Several amendments had been submitted to the House Rules Committee as of last week that pertained to the status of civilians in conflict around the world. None of those proposed amendments were made in order or received a vote. For reference, those amendments were:
Sponsor: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
Sponsors: Reps Sarbanes (D-MD), Bilirakis (R-FL), Cicilline (D-RI), Gabbard (D-HI)
States that no funding in this Act shall be used or otherwise made available by this Act to end DoD technical assistance and other ongoing activities, that may include communicating risks posed to non-combatant civilians by Saudi led coalition’s activity
Sponsors: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
States that none of the funds made available for Operation and Maintenance (Defense-Wide) may be made available to provide operational, intelligence, or refueling support to military units of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates which have been identified by the Department for gross violations of human rights or war crimes
Sponsors: Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)
Sponsors: Rep. Tusli Gabbard (D-HI)
Sponsors: Rep. Tusli Gabbard (D-HI)
Sponsors: Rep. Tusli Gabbard (D-HI)
Sponsors: Reps Lee, Barbara (D-CA), Jones (R-NC), Amash (R-MI), Schiff (D-CA)
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
The CIA will not be able to block the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act request regarding records about the justification, approval process, and assessment of casualties ahead of the January 2017 Navy SEAL raid in al Ghayil, Yemen.
The Pentagon is moving forward on AI despite Google’s decision to withdraw from Project Maven last month, writes Lara Seligman in Foreign Policy. The Defense Department recently announced a plan to establish an official AI hub for the US military, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, and officials have said that Project Maven is only the beginning of the Pentagon’s use of AI.
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
The State Department cleared two potential arms sales this week:
- 5 AEGIS weapons systems to Spain, worth an estimated $860.4 million
- Equipment to Australia for integrating its CEAFAR 2 phased array radar system with the AEGIS combat system, worth an estimated $185 million
Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a letter to Secretaries Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis that he cannot support the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the UAE over concerns about the war in Yemen. Menendez said that information the Trump administration has provided so far about the PGM sales has not adequately addressed concerns about whether the weapons would be used to kill civilians and asked for more briefings on civilian casualties in Yemen, US refueling support for the Saudi-led coalition, and US policy in Yemen more generally.
Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.12 billion contract to produce sixteen F-16 Block 70 aircraft for the Royal Bahraini Air Force. The sale was first approved by the State Department in 2016 during the Obama administration but was delayed over human rights concerns. The Trump administration dropped the human rights concerns last year, and State approved the sale of the aircraft and upgrades for Bahrain’s existing fleet of F-16s in September 2017.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Eric Rosand and Leanne Erdberg write in Just Security that “military operations alone do not end terrorist movements” and that in order to prevent the reemergence and spread of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, the US must adopt a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that protects the basic rights and freedoms of citizens.